Mad Ripple Slim Town Singles Hootenanny, Record Store Day, Hi Fi Hair and Records. Photo by David Tanner.
Mad Ripple Slim Town Singles Hootenanny, Record Store Day, Hi Fi Hair and Records. Photo by David Tanner.

The Mad Ripple Hootenanny This Week: “You Just Have To Be An Individual”

May 27, 2015

Dear Good People,

I just got back from the Washburn High School spring choir concert, where I witnessed a couple hundred teenagers raising their often cracking, off-key, and timid voices in song and dance and I’m here to say it was straight-up beautiful and life-affirming and all that good stuff that only young art in first full bloom provides. The show kicked off with the boys’ ensemble doing a few shaky numbers from, yes, “High School Musical,” after which vocal music director Nancy Lee told the buzzing auditorium, “I know that for most of the boys up there, that was the most painful thing they’ve ever had to do.”

Laughs came from the assembled collection of family, loved ones, and fellow students (singer/multi-instrumentalist and Hoot alumnus Alma Engebretson held the whole big band together on bass), but the show – in which the young singers sang of love, loss, and all matters of the heart via ABBA, the Monkees, Leonard Cohen, Harry Belafonte and more – poetically got at what I was chewing on in last week’s newsletter riff, about the terrifying prospect of playing new songs in public for the first time, and the rewards that come from taking risks in life and music and sometimes looking like a complete fool in the process. Bring it.

In a recent Alan Light interview, Johnny Rotten-nee-Lydon said, “As for making your own music on the Internet, you’re too limited by the technology, and it all ends up sounding like robot stuff anyway. Live performance is where it’s at – put yourself on the line, in front of other human beings, and you show the endeavors of your work. You’re almost begging to be judged, and judged you will be. That’s the excitement of live music, and that’s the reward, right there. And you don’t have to conform to win over an audience; you just have to be an individual. It’s far more interesting.”

(Johnny also compared punk rock to folk music, the spontaneity/chaos and acoustic/nakedness of which I’ve always found to be the Hoot’s two main guiding lights, even though “punk rock and roots music aren’t typically mentioned in the same breath,” according to The Bluegrass Situation’s Brittney McKenna in this excellent round-up of punk-inspired anti- folkies.)

Anyway, I’ve been kidding around with a new song called “The Hootenanny Almost Killed Me,” but the fact is it almost saved me last week. For personal reasons, I didn’t feel much like being in front of people or singing my dead heart out last Thursday, but the show must and did go on and at the end of almost three hours (thank you Anna Mitchell, Jonathan Delehanty, Steve Diedrich, Liz Heinecke, Jeff Robertson, Dantastic, and all…) there I was singing John Denver songs and feeling mostly alright and, well, the whole thing had this original song champion considering throwing together an all-covers Hoot for sometime down the road soon. Music heals!

Huzzah. Thursday night (May 28, 6:30-9:00 p.m.) we return to Harriet Brewing where we’ll be celebrating Miss Becky Kapell’s birthday with some of my favorite people on the planet: Miss Becky, Jon Rodine, Joe Fahey, and Natalie Lovejoy, who will be bringing her cellist Anna Lee Roberts so as to pretty up all our tunes. Should be a gorgeous night at the neighborhood brew pub, come if you can…

Thanks for all the Hoot support and good love. Here’s to authenticity, taking risks, singing off key, living the dream, living your truth, loving thine enemies and loving yourself the way those Washburn kids did at the end of their spirited version of Queen’s “Somebody To Love,” which yearned over and over and over again for somebody to love, but just when it sounded like another cry for a mythical dream lover, the teens all whipped out their cell phones and took photos of… themselves.

Finally, condolences to our friend Jessica Bessette, founder of Harmony Hoops and a wise loving soul who brought her joyful gift to the Lake Harriet bandshell hoots and a couple others and who lost her beautiful teenage son Wes in a tragic way last week. Send her the love, please. Also, we buried my dear friend Mary Beth’s mother Wednesday. Printed in the memorial program was this Mary Oliver poem, which, as was the intention of the great poet, went straight to this heart. For you and yours:

The Red Bird Explains Himself

“Yes I was the brilliance floating over snow
And I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was only the first trick
I had hold of among my other mythologies,
For I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest,
Food to the young, kisses to my bride.
But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen.
If I was the song that entered your heart
Then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
And thus the wilderness bloomed there, with all its
Followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
For the death of rivers.
And this was my true task, to be the
Music of the body. Do you understand? For truly the body needs
A song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this body work,
The soul has need of a body,
And I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
Beauty of heaven
Where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
And this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”

Mary Oliver


Jessica Bessette of Harmony Hoops at the Lake Harriet bandshell Hoot, 2011. Photo by Renee Rhodman.
Jessica Bessette of Harmony Hoops at the Lake Harriet bandshell Hoot, 2011. Photo by Renee Rhodman.

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